The gallbladder is a small sack that is shaped similarly to a pear and is located below the liver and in the upper right abdomen of the body. Its function is to store the liquid called bile that is produced by the liver and secrete the bile into a small tube which is called the common bile duct where it is then released it into the small intestine after a meal is consumed to aid in digestion.
Bile contains a combination of cholesterol, proteins, bile salts, water, fats, and the waste product called bilirubin. When an imbalance of these substances occur creating too much of one of these substances, the liquid can harden forming small pebble-like substances that are known as gallstones.
There are two types of gallstones that can form from the liquid substances contained in bile. Cholesterol stones primarily made up of hardened cholesterol can form when there is an excess amount of cholesterol in the bile and are typically a yellowish-green in color. These are most the most common type of gallstones as they are found in approximately eighty percent of all patients diagnosed with gallstones. Pigment stones occur when the substance called bilirubin hardens and are typically dark colored small stones.
The Symptoms Associated with Gallstones
While some gallstones – often called “silent stones” – may not cause any symptoms at all and require no form of treatment, some gallstone may begin to move and become lodged in the neck of the gallbladder or in the bile ducts creating a blockage.
This can cause an individual to experience what is commonly called a “gallbladder attack” and causes the symptom of pain in the right side of the upper abdomen that will intensify quickly and may last from thirty minutes or up to several hours. Pain may also be experienced under the right shoulder blade and in the area of the back between the shoulder blades.
Although a gallbladder attack may pass, it is essential if you think you have experienced one to contact your physician for an examination as there still may be a remaining blockage which can cause an infection or the rupturing of the gallbladder.
Other more severe symptoms that may occur and require immediate medical attention include pain the lasts for more than five hours, nausea or vomiting, a fever including a low-grade fever, chills, jaundice or a yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, or stools that are clay-colored.
Treatment for Gallstones
Gallstones that cause no noticeable signs or symptoms do not require any form of medical treatment; however, for individuals who experience frequent episodes of symptoms or gallbladder attacks, the recommended form of treatment is typically surgical removal of the gallbladder which is called a “cholecystectomy”.
This surgical procedure is among the most commonly performed surgical procedures on adult patients in the United States. If you are experiencing any symptoms that you suspect may be caused by gallstones, it is essential that you schedule an appointment with your physician for an evaluation as some gallstones have the potential to cause serious complications when left untreated.